The Friday night line | Arkansas Blog

The Friday night line

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You're turn. Weird day. Tips and harangues galore. Closing notes:

* PODCAST: Lindsey and I did a rip-roaring podcast on the week in review. Best ever. Sparkling wit. Amazing insights. But .... another blankety-blank technical glitch. He's working to restore the audio, but you may be deprived of our brilliance this week.

* BIG VERDICT: A Stuttgart jury has awarded hometown Riceland Foods a $142 million verdict in a lawsuit against Bayer CropScience over genetically altered rice. I think it's safe to say the verdict will be appealed.

* SCHOOL ELECTIONS: I've heard from Gary Newton of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce staff, who explains that he's behind the school legislation I wrote about earlier today and that it's a blow for better education in the Little Rock school district, where his children attend school. Part of his note is on the jump.

LETTER FROM GARY NEWTON

Because of my profession, I've intentionally never ventured into personal public policy initiatives, lest my opinions be viewed as representing my organization.

That said, with two third graders in the Little Rock School District, I've been compelled to leave the faceless sidelines and go public in my individual advocacy for immediate reform of our public schools.

I initiated HB 1551 and 2140 with Representative Barry Hyde. While I appreciate the Chamber's and others' support, it is not any organization's bill. It was and remains citizen/parent initiated out of my sheer frustration with a system that is not educating all students.

Further, amendments of both bills have been drafted and filed, but evidently not yet posted online. I received copies yesterday from Representative Hyde, after copies were distributed to members of the House Committee on Education.

I initiated this legislation for these reasons:

HB 1551

For too long, a system has been perpetuated which ensures minimal voter turnout in order to disenfranchise and disengage the public from the governance of their public schools. As a result, in the 2010 Little Rock School District election, only 1.6% of registered voters cast ballots, compared to 49% in the general election just two months later. My own unopposed Zone 4 (West Little Rock) member was elected with just 57 votes.

HB 2140

Current law only allows incumbent school boards to determine how the district will be represented. In the case of Little Rock, that determination was made by the board, not the people, in the mid-1990s. By all indications, Little Rock is locked into seven zones unless the board decides otherwise. With the 2010 census, the Arkansas State Board of Education and Arkansas School Board Association have issued a memorandum to school boards, superintendents, and co-op directors stating that they must redraw zones (by 6/2012) and determine by resolution (90 days before 9/2011 school elections) if they will be five or seven zones, and if seven, all zones or five zones and two at-large. They then should elect all new board members in the 9/2012 school elections in order to comply with state and federal law. I believe that, after each census, the people, not those whose positions are at stake, should determine how they will be represented.

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